Navigate to The Scroll section

What Happened: December 3, 2021

Tablet’s afternoon news digest: Michigan Shooter’s Parents Charged, Battle over Classics Education, Algebra in California Middle Schools

The Scroll
December 03, 2021
Editor’s note: Guest-edited by Sean Cooper

The Big Story

The parents of Ethan Crumbley, the 15-year-old Michigan sophomore accused on Tuesday of killing four of his high school classmates with a 9-millimeter pistol before being apprehended by police, have been charged with involuntary manslaughter. At a press conference, the Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald outlined a series of mistakes she believed the parents made that could have prevented the shooting, including allowing the unsecured storage of the handgun purportedly used in the killings, which the parents had purchased as a Christmas gift for Ethan. The morning of the shooting, school administrators summoned the parents for a conference after a teacher found Ethan’s drawing that depicted a person being shot and the phrases “The world is dead” and “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.” The parents declined to remove their son from school, who returned to class and allegedly carried out the shooting shortly thereafter. While many school shooters use weapons owned by their parents, it’s rare that parents are prosecuted for the shootings. According to the Everytown for Gun Safety database, 28 people have died and 86 have been injured across 144 school campus shootings this year. Since 2013, 256 have been killed across the 790 total campus shootings.

Read it here:

Today’s Back Pages: Your Weekend Reads

The Rest

→Classics professors and high school teachers alike have been critical of the Western canon over the past several years, labeling the study of Sophocles and St. Augustine as the perpetuation of colonialism and a white patriarchal society. But while some American universities, such as Princeton, have removed their requirement that classics students learn Latin or Greek, France is doubling down on Plato and Plutarch, rolling out a plan to supercharge the nation’s focus on the classics. “I have read and heard these critics, some of whom go so far as to pretend that you can find in Homer an apology of slavery,” said Jean-Michel Blanquer, France’s education minister, who has signed a pledge with Italy and Greece to promote Latin and Ancient Greek to their schools’ students. “I find such interpretations absolutely flabbergasting: it is an unfathomable absurdity to stick a vision of the contemporary world on texts dating from 2,000 years ago. This is a sordid historic and moral revision.”

California public education officials are moving closer to implementing a controversial San Francisco curriculum statewide—removing algebra from middle school classrooms so that students have a greater chance of succeeding with the basic math instruction in high school. Proponents say it will help close the inequity achievement gap affecting minority and low-income students, and raise California math test scores up out of the bottom quartile nationwide. But critics point out that high school students will face additional pressure to rush through the more difficult math classes such as calculus later in high school and will be ill prepared for college and careers in STEM fields.

→New reports indicate a growing level of COVID-19 infections in animals across the globe. As of the end of October, the World Organisation for Animal Health cited cases in at least 30 nations and 14 animal species. More recent data has found an uptick in wild deer infections across the United States. “Any reinfection from wildlife reservoirs could complicate our long-term efforts to fight and suppress the disease,” Graeme Shannon, a zoologist in Wales, told the Financial Times.

→The drip, drip, drip of stories of infighting and tension between Vice President Kamala Harris and the president’s inner circle in the White House suggests political narrative makers are testing the waters for a shuffling atop the Democratic ticket for the 2024 presidential race. With President Joe Biden’s approval ratings at 36% in a recent Quinnipiac poll (a public opinion lower than Trump or Obama ever achieved) and Kamala Harris topping out at a dismal 41% approval rating in this week’s Los Angeles Times tally, perhaps there’s nothing to lose by leaking palace intrigue stories to the press. Suddenly, all at once, news outlets have ramped up their speculation that Biden, 79, the oldest president to date, will bow out of running for a second term so that his 39-year-old transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, could pursue the top office in the land. That Buttigieg came in fifth in the 2020 democratic primary, a dismal finish, would be reason enough for Republican leadership to embrace the new competition.

→Virtual real estate—also known as land inside an imaginary place—is being purchased at a record clip, with a slice of the Decentraland, a virtual environment inside the metaverse, selling at the end of November for a cool $2.4 million. The acquisition of the 116-parcel estate is said to exist within Decentraland’s nascent fashion district, where the plot of make-believe space will occupy the equivalent of 6,090 square feet in the physical world. Luxury brands such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton have made early plays with NFTs in the metaverse, and Nike is promoting its own entry into the virtual realm with a forthcoming line of digital sneakers in its digital Nikeland.

→U.S. corporations are still trying to figure out how to run their operations in the pandemic, with Google becoming the latest major company to announce it will delay a mandate for employees to return to the office. Originally slated to bring its employees back on Jan. 10, Google now says it’ll leave the decision up to workers, at least for now, a move embraced by many other tech giants. A recent survey from a New York business advocacy group found that only 28% of workers have returned to office work in Manhattan, with less than half of all workers anticipated to return sometime in the first quarter.

→Not satisfied with the claim to fame as the frequent backdrop to MTV’s laundry-forward reality-television hit Jersey Shore, Toms River township council members voted this week to become the only jurisdiction in the Garden State to permanently ban recreational marijuana businesses from operating inside its border. Though some 64% of Toms River voters endorsed recreational dispensaries in a referendum last year, a sentiment echoed by a council subcommittee that recommended the township follow New Jersey’s lead to add recreational marijuana sales in 2022 statewide, the leaders of Toms River endeavor to keep the boardwalk less green and more boozy.

→Tensions continue to escalate between Russia and the West as Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, warned that Ukraine’s deployment of some 100,000 troops to the Donbas region inched the potential conflict between Russia and Ukraine ever closer to a “nightmare” scenario. After meeting yesterday with Lavrov, Secretary of State Antony Blinken didn’t detail exactly how the United States was prepared to impose aggressive consequences against Russia if it invaded the Ukraine, but he did say there was potential for “high-impact economic measures that we’ve refrained from taking in the past.” Though Putin has so far denied Russia has plans to invade the former Soviet Republic and NATO member, the buildup of Russian armed forces along the Ukrainian border, and Putin’s long-held interest in returning the Ukraine to Russian control, suggests otherwise. Secretary Blinken said President Biden and President Putin will be speaking soon about the conflict.

The Back Pages

backpages Weekend Reads

Substack co-founder Hamish McKenzie talks with David Kushner on his Substack, “Disruptor,” about the impetus and potential for his platform to build a new media ecosystem atop the burning wreckage that is the legacy American media.

McKenzie: ...And we’ll be left instead with a social media dominated world—a Facebook-dominated world, a Twitter-dominated world—that had an entirely different effect on how we think together and work together as a society.

David Kushner: How did you think creating Substack would address those problems?

Hamish McKenzie: Well, lots of people felt this despair or feel like their media experiences are kind of broken. They’re not having a good time reading stuff on the internet anymore. But no one really knew the solution. We felt that it wasn’t going to be Facebook changing its algorithm to just the perfect degree, or the perfect government regulation coming along to fix it. We felt we had to change the rules entirely and play a totally different game. We could create an alternative media economy that may ultimately be small. Substack could have failed in the womb; it might never have gone anywhere. We were not harboring grand illusions about what was going to happen. We saw what was possible, but the idea is to create this different media economy based on trust, where the financial model is predicated on direct payments and subscriptions rather than off of advertising.

Pair that with Balaji Srinivasan’s primer on how to get off Twitter and into a more decentralized and creator-driven media environment. Less inclined toward Substack, Srinivasan suggests the use of open-source Ghost. Even for those who aren’t writing themselves, the piece outlines some problems caused by media makers becoming so heavily in Twitter.

Twitter doesn’t create wealth. It was a mistake to have so many people spending so much time on something that arguably destroys more wealth than it creates. Because by default, you don’t create wealth on Twitter. You may create wealth for Twitter, or for the media corporations whose links are circulated, but not for yourself or for others. There’s no sense of economic alignment with other users, no sense of mutual obligation.

Twitter turns society into Twitter. It was a mistake to let Twitter set up the incentives for our society. It’s not good for the world when the one thing every prominent person knows how to do is fight each other on Twitter for likes and followers. It has converted society into a zero-sum status game played by elites with real consequences.

In “Journal of Free Black Thought,” Michael D.C. Bowen pens a review of John McWhorter’s new book, Woke Racism, and extends it into a nuanced essay on the evolution of race as a category and vehicle used by various American factions over the past several decades.

McWhorter stands near me in my own location within black culture and specifically outside of the privileges accorded to themselves of black culture’s racialists, who always manage to grab what I consider outsized and inappropriate influence. Those of us who are old enough have seen “blackness” invented and reinvented by these racialists over the decades. There has of course been real progress and change in the minds of black Americans, but there are always regressive elements. Let me describe a few. This should help anyone who has the handicap of not having paid close attention to various arcane movements within the black intelligentsia. In short, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Ibram X. Kendi are just a couple of new jack icebergs in an ocean of struggle. In 1991, it was Afrocentrism, remember?
I see black American strivings overwhelmingly in the context of the sorts of middle-class and bourgeois aspirations associated with the American Dream. From my perspective this stands in a tradition that is practically as old as the republic itself.
On the other side of the net are the whites and their Asian doppelgängers all corralled by the Elect to bear the shame of any success not shared “equitably” with the so-called People of Color. McWhorter doesn’t characterize them fully so much as he identifies some of their innocent cosmopolitan habits, like watching Mad Men or reading The New York Times. It doesn’t quite matter because the attraction of becoming Elect for whites is equally wrong at the philosophical level. Whether you seek to raise or denigrate your racial identity, you are still treating it according to the prescriptions of the religion. You are still admitting to your undeniable possession of a racial soul which must be put right, at the risk of everything else.

Thus is born the new civilizing imperative called for by the Elect, whether it manifests in schools, at work, online, or in the arts, whether you call it CRT, DEI, or ESG, and whether you use terms like diversity, equity, or social justice. So long as you perceive race and weight it, you are playing into the hands of the Elect, who will inevitably grow more capable and powerful as they gain more active adherents and passive observers who are willing to go along.

Send your tips, comments, questions, and suggestions to [email protected].

Tablet’s afternoon newsletter edited by Jacob Siegel and Park MacDougald.

Become a Member of Tablet

Get access to exclusive conversations, our custom app, and special perks from our favorite Jewish artists, creators, and businesses. You’ll not only join our community of editors, writers, and friends—you’ll be helping us rebuild this broken world.